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Detroit Tigers: JaCoby Jones’ Early Impact on Defense

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Apr 18, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones (40) catches a fly ball after it hits the catwalk during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 18, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones (40) catches a fly ball after it hits the catwalk during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Detroit Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones has made an early impact this season on defense. Despite striking out at times at the plate, Jones’ defense has been key in the early going.

Detroit Tigers fans entered the 2017 season with the prospect of a new starting center fielder.

Cameron Maybin, the starter in 2016, was flipped to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in an offseason deal.

Elsewhere, Anthony Gose failed to make the team out of Spring Training.

That left a combination of JaCoby Jones, Andrew Romine, Tyler Collins and Mikie Mahtook manning center field.

J.D. Martinez’ injury forced Collins and Mahtook to a platoon situation in right, clearing the way for JaCoby Jones to make Detroit’s Opening Day roster.

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Early Impact

One of the franchise’s most intriguing prospects, Jones has the upside to be a 20-20 (home runs and stolen bases) threat on offense thanks to his combination of speed and power.

So far in 2017, that speed has helped Jones cover some serious ground in center field and become one of Detroit’s more valuable fielders.

Entering Thursday, the former Pittsburgh farmhand posted a DRS of three, an rPM of two and a rARM of one.

Here’s FanGraphs’ definition of both rPM:

"“rPM – Plus Minus Runs Saved evaluates the fielder’s range and ability to convert a batted ball to an out.”"

And rARM:

"“rARM – Outfield Arms Runs Saved evaluates an outfielder’s throwing arm based on how often runner advance on base hits and are thrown out trying to take extra bases.”"

Jones’ numbers in the categories may not seem significant, but defensive metrics like that aren’t too high early in the regular season.

What’s more, Detroit’s new center fielder has provided the Tigers with a significant improvement defensively in the middle of the outfield grass.

Last season, Maybin’s DRS number finished at -11. He also checked in with a -5 rARM and a -3 rPM.

In fact, the Tigers as a whole had just three position players (Ian Kinsler, James McCann and Jose Iglesias) with a DRS north of three last season.

Related Story: Minor League, Statistical Standouts So Far

This season, Jones leads Detroit in defensive runs saved and rARM. He’s second in rPM to Justin Upton.

Range

Entering Thursday, Jones had made 12 plays outside of his zone. Meanwhile, Maybin had just 57 in 94 games last season.

Moving forward in 2017, the 24-year-old should continue to make plays for the Tigers. He’s a rookie, so there will obviously be some ups and downs.

However, Jones’ defense should be a consistent all season long for the Detroit Tigers.

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Given somewhere close to a full season’s worth of work, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him finish as one of the team leaders in defensive runs saved.

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